In Mexico, teachers are all too often attacked by both politicians and the media, just as they are throughout the world. It is indeed true that the corrupt bureaucrats of the leadership of the SNTE union (which for many years played an important part in the PRI’s authoritarian and undemocratic government) have been responsible for numerous crimes within the education sector. Those affected, however, are almost always humble, hardworking teachers, many of whom work in incredibly poor conditions for very little money. But there is a war on teachers, led by those who wish to control the education system and make sure that independent, critical, and free-thinking citizens are not cultivated.
Under the PAN governments of Fox and Calderón, there was a focus on furthering the privatisation and corporatisation of the economy – which had been started by the PRI in previous decades. As a result, the number of teachers in higher education grew by 4% between 2000 and 2011. At the same time, however, the numbers of those teaching primary and secondary pupils fell by 5%. We could conclude from this ‘coincidence’ that the PAN’s education policies openly neglected poorer students, for whom primary and secondary education is essential. Its apparent focus on the more profitable sector of higher education, meanwhile, suggests a fairly clear political bias towards the more wealthy sectors of society.
In 2008, there were 1.7 million teachers in Mexico, teaching around 33.5 million students. At primary level, there were officially 28 pupils for every teacher between 2009 and 2011 (compared to 14 in the USA and 9 in Cuba). In 2012, an OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) study marked the average wage of Mexican teachers at 18,000 pesos per month (around $1,400 or £820), though if we look more closely, teachers in further and higher education earn significantly more than those who teach younger pupils or teach in rural areas. This average salary was the fifth lowest in all of the OECD countries.
In the real world (not that of sheltered statistical analysts), many teachers in Mexico aim to contextualise such figures, though their voices are seldom heard in the corporate media. Teachers claim that very few schools have benefitted from technological advances in education, and that the budgets received are woefully inadequate. In primary schools, they assert that they are placed in charge of around 40 pupils, and earn an average of 7000 pesos a month (around $540 or £320). This wage is, apparently, designed to take into account the hours spent in the classroom, the numerous hours of preparation, and the time spent filling in paperwork and marking exams. We can assume that ignorant politicians also believe this salary is more than enough to pay for extra courses, workshops, and ‘voluntary’ hours spent on non-contractual obligations – all of which are necessary to advance in the teaching profession.
Nonetheless, the corporate media frequently attacks teachers, in spite of its often complete lack of knowledge and experience regarding the work they do. In 2013, for example, horrific tirades were launched at the CNTE union (a democratic and anti-bureaucratic sector of the SNTE), which went on strike to fight for the working rights of teachers and the maintenance of a free and independent education system. The media played a significant role in forming public opinion on behalf of the government, which pushed through an education reform without the consent of teachers. Humble, hardworking teachers were labelled “lazy delinquents”, and many misinformed citizens accepted what they heard.
On May 14th, 2014, the IMCO (Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad – an apparently ‘independent’ institute which collaborates with neoliberal organisations like the World Bank and OECD) released a study which would immediately appear on the front pages of Mexico’s right-wing newspapers. It revealed that 70 Mexican ‘teachers’ (45 of whom do not actually work directly in schools) earn more (officially) than President Peña Nieto. It also spoke of how another 7,183 people (less than 0.5% of teachers) earn over 100,000 pesos a month. One ‘mentor’ in Oaxaca, for example, earned 603,000 pesos a month at the end of 2013, with the job title of ‘investigative teacher’. The country also has hundreds of ‘ghost schools’, which earn over 340,000,000 pesos a month whilst not appearing in censuses. Such phenomena reek of government or SNTE corruption, private education, or methods of corporate tax avoidance. And, from personal experience, I am more than aware of how the bureaucrats of private educational corporations do their best to exploit workers and avoid tax in search of profits.
When we consider that the average wage for a head-teacher is 33 thousand pesos a month, it seems unlikely that the average teacher in primary or secondary education earns 25,000 pesos a month (as the IMCO study suggests). The mixture of private and public sector figures, and higher education and ‘basic’ education figures, is a simple way of manipulating data and misinforming the public. And this is precisely what sensationalist headlines seek to do. Amidst an economic crisis and union battle with the government, one of the things the rich and powerful of the country would most like to do is turn the general population against teachers. For that reason, context is replaced with scandal, and perspective with manipulation.
The truth is that, in many states, there are a number of teachers who continue to work after the official retirement age of 65. The ten percent of teachers who are considered to be well-off, meanwhile, take on two or more posts before reaching that position. At the same time, there are 536 “telesecundarias” (a fifth in Veracruz) and 93 “Digital Abilities for All” schools (two thirds in the State of Mexico) which don’t even have access to electricity.
The figures published by the IMCO in tabloid newspapers are designed to convince the public that teachers are overpaid, corrupt, and lazy – things that are clearly not true. There is indeed a small minority of people who abuse the education system for personal gain, squandering money given to them by the government or avoiding taxes as a tactic for corporate gain. There is also bureaucracy and corruption within the SNTE (though groups like the CNTE aim to change this situation). Nonetheless, the vast majority of teachers (in Mexico and throughout the world) are committed, overworked, and underpaid. Social justice, along with economic success and stability, will depend on the consciousness of the world’s workers and, without education, these objectives will never be achieved. So if anyone deserves to be respected, valued, and treasured, it is those in the teaching profession.
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